A lot of cycling involves managing pain and discomfort, particularly when talking about endurance efforts. We're not talking about damaging pain, such as what you might experience from an injury.
Rather it's pushing through a period of suffering, sometimes deep suffering, to achieve that which you set out to do.
I've completed a lot of really long challenges, and they all feel a bit different to each other, but they all involved finding ways to cope with pain.
Words - Dave Edwards Images - Andrew Clifforth
The quantity of suffering we can deal with is something worn as a badge of honour. I know I'm much more interested in an effort where a person has had to go through the wringer, than the same effort seemingly done easily.
So what can you do about it? You can train all you like, but in the moment when a seemingly endless torrent of discomfort lies before you, how do you find a way to push on?
Easy, think of something else. Find a happy place like riding the bike of your dreams in the Dolomites, making love to your favourite celebrity in front of an open fire, or analysing data on a never-ending spreadsheet - whatever floats your boat. Just find something that you really like thinking about, and think intensely about the details involved in it. Or think of a different distraction, something right in front of you can help. A creaking bottom bracket can work (it's why BB30 was invented wasn't it?), counting up or down can also help, anything you can focus on to take your mind off of the difficulty.
The pros - it's fairly easy to find something to think about, will work for a little bit. Cons - if you need to concentrate on your effort, like a descent or a hard effort, it can be distracting thinking about something else. Also, if it's a sharp discomfort, then you get pulled out of this mindset quicker than Australia changes it's leader.
Grit your muphuggen teeth, take in a big breath and deal with it. Call yourself a pussy, swear out loud, and fight with all you've got. You are here to get the job done, and nothing is going to stop you. If it still hurts, swear more. You may be forced down to just grunting animalistic tones if it gets real bad.
Pros - swearing is way more badass than chanting about your happy place. Quick and easy way to deal with acute discomfort, like a sore arse from a long ride. Cons - quick relief only, doesn't last. Conservative people won't enjoy your company as much, though this could be a plus, as you don't need that bullshit in your dark moments...
Here we are. We've been dreaming about Mila Kunis, we dropped the C bomb repeatedly, but it's still there. Old Mate Pain has brought a 6 pack and a camp chair, and he's settled in as your company for a session. There's now a fat bloke in a faded blue singlet in your sexual fantasy, and as much as you swear at him, he smiles at you, and kicks you in the crotch.
- Get off your bike, go and have a shower, and lament what could have been. This option is so inviting. Why are you pushing this hard anyway? What's the point? You've done well to get this far... Quitting is a very seductive siren, with a song that is deeply difficult to resist. She takes a lot of victims.
Remember that everything ends. This ride, hill, race or segment will eventually finish. The pain will eventually stop. Nothing lasts forever. So you stay on the bike and keep pedalling.
This is the key, acceptance. If it's 2 more minutes of effort that you need, put it into perspective. If you were only allocated 2 minutes each day to relax, you'd complain about how short that time is. If it's another hour, so what? You can't remember the details of every hour that you were awake yesterday, they are all short patches of time that fade away. So will the discomfort. Even thinking of another 24 hours is easy if you compare that to how many 24 hour blocks you have in your life. You can make the time as inconsequential as you like by accepting that what is happening to you will end.
Pros: requires A LOT of confidence, and is greatly helped by experience. Cons: accepting the inevitability of the end of your suffering is very, very challenging to master.
Your best asset will be the experience of practising these techniques as often as you can before your ride. Hard training is the obvious candidate, but find other experiences to draw upon. I’ve written this whole article whilst getting a stonking great big tattoo from my ribs to my calf (it seemed an appropriate topic at the time…) Time spent working through pain is another resource to draw upon the dark times. This confidence is what will help you complete your goal.
So go out and challenge yourself. Everything ends. Remember that.
Tell us how you tackle pain in the comments below.
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